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Photo: Felix Carroll
Happy Birthday, Fr. Seraphim!
Friends, Supporters, Marians Pay Tribute to 'Fr. Joseph, MIC' on his 80th
By Dan Valenti (Aug 22, 2010)
One decade has St. Faustina since sainthood, five decades has the Rosary, and eight decades has Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC.
And so it was on a rainy, cool, windswept Aug. 22 at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., that about 400 friends, supporters, brothers, sisters, well wishers, and fellow Marians came to pay tribute to a man who, when the history of The Divine Mercy message is told, emerges as a seminal figure.
+ + + Who attended the celebration? View a photo gallery from the day. + + +
"Father Seraphim," said Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, in a morning tribute, "you were instrumental to many of us here." It was the understatement of the day.
Divine Mercy, His Life's Work
Father Kaz took his listeners back to a day in 2007, when he was in Rome for a meeting of the international executive committee of the first World Apostolic Congress on Mercy, held the following year in the Eternal City.
There were representatives from many nations and nearly every continent. At one point, one of the delegates said, "We would not be here today without the very crucial input on [sharing] Divine Mercy to the world that Fr. Seraphim has given us."
Even before he became a Marian, Fr. Kaz said, Fr. Seraphim recruited him with help in translating the Diary of St. Faustina from Polish to English. It's a point made in different ways by the day's various speakers: Spreading the word about Divine Mercy has become the all-consuming focus of Fr. Seraphim's life work.
As written in the Diary, Jesus not only revealed the message of The Divine Mercy to St. Faustina but also put upon her the incredible responsibility to spread that message to the world. How could that be done, the obscure Polish nun wondered? She trusted, and God eventually called upon various people to help fulfill the call.
"Those are the words that Jesus has given us, to spread the word of God's mercy," Fr. Kaz said, noting that everyone can take a role in this important work. God relies upon us to become His instruments in this work "to make evident again the wonderful gift He has given us."
The Right Man, the Right Place, the Right Time
While everyone can help in spreading God's mercy, the Lord calls upon certain individuals to serve in especially key roles.
Father Kaz mentioned that in helping St. Faustina achieve the seemingly impossible task of sharing her revelations with the world, God chose people such as Blessed Michael Sopocko, Faustina's spiritual director and confessor; Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II; his successor, Pope Benedict XVI; the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy; the Marian Fathers, who were entrusted as official promoters of the message; Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, who became involved in the Divine Mercy movement in the 1940s; and, of course, Fr. Seraphim.
Father Kaz noted how God fingered the young Seraphim Michalenko early for a central role in the unfolding of the Divine Mercy saga. Seraphim first heard about Divine Mercy in the 1930s while serving as an altar boy, showing "how the Lord can pick us [for His work] without our choice."
God selected Seraphim "in a special way," Fr. Kaz said. He then noted another point that, later, several others speakers emphasized as well.
"He doesn't seem to have the drive to do what he's doing," Fr. Kaz said, "but once he begins [a project], he doesn't know when to stop."
'From a Hangnail to a Bad Haircut,' the Answer is Mercy
In his homily later at the 2 p.m. Mass at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine, the Very Rev. Fr. Dan Cambra, MIC, Marian provincial superior, put it this way: "The blessing of the Lord makes his ministry go further than it possibly should."
Earlier, in his morning tribute prior to lunch, Fr. Dan said, "It doesn't matter what the topic is. It can be 'The Wizard of Oz,' the obscurities of literature, or movies. For [Fr. Seraphim,], it always comes back to Divine Mercy. From a hangnail to a bad haircut, it all comes back to Divine Mercy for him. Whatever question you ask him, the answer with Fr. Seraphim is always Divine Mercy."
In a remark he repeated in his homily, Fr. Dan noted what a help Fr. Seraphim has been to countless people over the decades, including a young novice named Dan Cambra: "Mercy is the means by which one can enter into the purity of God. Everything comes down to mercy. I thank Fr. Seraphim for making that clear to me throughout the years, ever since I was a novice."
A Bevy of Speakers, a Boatload of Tribute
In addition to Fr. Kosicki, Fr. Kaz, and Fr. Dan, speakers included Fran Bourdon, executive director of the Association of Marian Helpers, who served as master of ceremonies for the testimonials; Bob Digan, whose wife, Maureen, was the recipient of the first miracle attributed to the intercession of St. Faustina; Sr. Sophia and Sr. Victoria Michalenko, Fr. Seraphim's siblings, both nuns; Marian promoter Oscar Delgado; and Deacon Michael Gaitley, MIC, who was introduced as Fr. Seraphim's successor as "Fr. Joseph, MIC," titular head of the Association of Marian Helpers.
The day also included a Rosary procession and the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
A Long List of Essential Accomplishment
In their testimonials, speakers reflected on the influence Fr. Seraphim has had on them personally. Most also gave stories, anecdotes, and factoids on the decisive role he has played over the years in the spreading of Divine Mercy as a message and devotion.
That work has included:
• Translating St. Faustina's Diary from Polish into English following the 20-year Vatican ban on Divine Mercy lifted in 1978. The Diary has since been translated into 29 languages, including Korean and Chinese as the most recent.
• Re-starting the Divine Mercy apostolates.
• Helping to take the Association of Marian Helpers to the next level. Membership is now more than 1.5 million.
• Writing numerous articles, pamphlets, and tracts, on what the devotion means to the Church and to the world.
• Bringing the Divine Mercy Shrine to its present state, including its status — achieved in the mid 1990s — as the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in the United States.
• Work in the media — TV, print, radio, and now the Internet — to spread word of Divine Mercy.
More to Do? Make Book on It
What is there left for Fr. Seraphim to do? Write books, as both Fr. Dan and Fr. Kaz mentioned. Given Fr. Seraphim's shepherding role in spreading the message of Divine Mercy at various tipping points over the past several decades, he is, literally, a walking encyclopedia of expertise on the life of St. Faustina and the message that Jesus entrusted to her.
Father Seraphim has knowledge no one else has. He has, alone, experienced events related to Divine Mercy that have no other witness left to render an authoritative account. Father Dan, in what surely was a serious jest, basically "ordered" him, under the vow of obedience, to soon begin producing books on what he knows, now that his role as "Fr. Joseph, MIC" is coming to an end.
'Well done, Faithful Servant'
Nonetheless, whether Fr. Seraphim goes on to produce no books or 30, one thing is certain. This humble and quiet man has run the good race. He answered the call. When the chips were down during the papal ban, and the sum of his life's work tottered in the balance for 20 years, he never lost faith. He embraced dedication and persistence as the surest road to get from where he was to where God wanted him to go.
Are books in Fr. Seraphim's future? In a sense, the question is made irrelevant by the fact that he has written in THE book, the Book of Life. No one knows the exact words, but we can surmise the gist: lines that when read by Jesus and St. Faustina when the time comes, as it does to all, will cause them to say, "Well done, faithful servant."
We trust in this.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.